July 20, 2020

McLennan Ross Update for Monday

By McLennan Ross Labour & Employment Team

What we are seeing
  • The Government of Canada announced on July 17, 2020 that it would extend the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) program to December 19, 2020, and would introduce modifications to the program to allow for more access by business to the subsidy. This includes allowing participation for employers who suffered a revenue decline of less than 30% and continued eligibility for employers whose revenues are no longer more than 30% year over year.
  • As part of the CEWS program modifications, the Government also introduced a new top-up subsidy of up to an additional 25% for employers that have been most adversely affected by the pandemic. This subsidy was suggested to be particularly helpful to employers in industries that are recovering more slowly. Details regarding this new top-up subsidy have yet to be provided.
  • The Government of Canada also announced on July 16, 2020 that it would be providing $19 billion to provinces and territories to assist with the costs associated with restarting the economy.The funding acknowledges that businesses will require internal and external assistance in overcoming barriers to reopening such as the purchase of PPE, ensuring there is childcare available for employees, and enhancing testing and tracing programs.

What we are hearing
  • Included in the $19 billion federal assistance program was money earmarked for municipal and local governments. $2 billion is expressly allocated towards the operating costs of Canadian cities for six to eight months, with provinces and territories required to match that amount from their own funds. The federal government would also match funding put toward public transit, up to $1.8 billion.

What we are saying
  • There has been criticism by unions of the proposed changes to the Labour Relations Code found in Bill 32, which we summarized here
  • In our view, these criticisms are unfounded:
    • Union leaders have complained that forcing employees to opt-in if they want union dues put towards political parties or causes will "silence" the unions on issues such as lobbying for increased worker health and safety programs or paid sick leave, issues unions characterize as a primary concern to members of the union. We disagree with this concern as workers will clearly opt-in and allow dues to be used to support lobbying on issues that they support. The amendment is designed to hold unions accountable for the use of their members' dues for tertiary concerns or for purposes which do not have the support of the rank and file members. 
    • Unions have also expressed concerns about having to apply to the Labour Relations Board (LRB) to get permission for workers to picket at a place other than the worker's place of employment. Although this additional step may slightly delay the ability of a union to legitimately picket at an "ally" of the employer, if the picket line is justified at the third-party location, the LRB will grant permission. This is a much more rational and cost-effective procedure than forcing third-party employers to seek injunctions, which are expensive and untimely options while one's business is being impacted by an illegal picket line. 
  • Bill 32 is not a "union busting" piece of legislation. It is an effort to re-balance the Code from changes by the NDP that were union-friendly and impractical. The new changes could have gone farther than they do. 
  • The changes in respect to union dues are designed to give power to union members over what they want to spend their money on. Unions are supposed to represent their members. If unions are spending union dues on things their members do not support, the last thing they should be doing is undermining the wishes of workers. It is contrary to the mandate of unions to be critical of how the workers they represent want and do not want to use their resources. The new measures are an important check on unions abusing their power. The changes do not stop how unions spend their money. They just require that workers represented by unions support certain non-core expenditures. As unions are supposed to represent workers, it is difficult to understand how unions can legitimately criticize legislation that gives workers the right to decide how their union dues will be spent.

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